Only adequate as fiction, Wood’s first brings to life a bygone age with such vigor—and points out the relevance of its...

READ REVIEW

HOSACK’S FOLLY

A NOVEL OF OLD NEW YORK

The planning of New York’s Croton Aqueduct and a yellow fever outbreak make up the historical backdrop for Australian-born Wood’s debut.

In the roiling, politically corrupt Manhattan of 1824, newspaper editor Eamonn Casey’s visionary plan to construct an aqueduct that will bring millions of gallons of desperately needed fresh water to the city is possible only if he cuts a deal with Wall Street businessman John Laidlaw. And that deal means Casey must use the New York Herald to smear physician David Hosack, who warns that all shipping should be quarantined to prevent yellow fever from being imported from the West Indies. Dr. Hosack and his idealistic assistant, Albert Dash, who lost his entire family in the 1814 yellow-fever epidemic, battle the authorities’ obstinate refusal to close the port, but they can’t overcome the combination of Laidlaw’s old-money clout and Irishman-made-good Casey’s savvy manipulation of the popular press and of bare-knuckled Bowery-boy enforcers. Meanwhile, Casey’s daughter Virginia pines over Albert, who enjoys her intellectual companionship but is engaged to her best friend, Vera Laidlaw, a flighty actress. The improbability of a patrician New Yorker like Laidlaw allowing his daughter to appear on the stage is one of several weak strands in the story, which is far stronger on period detail and atmosphere, from marvelous descriptions of shopping on Broadway to grim ones of agonized fever victims in Hosack’s Bellevue Hospital. Fortunately, Wood is inspired enough by the historical material to make vivid Laidlaw’s financial skullduggery, Casey’s ethical quandary, and Hosack’s stiff-necked rectitude. The old men’s maneuvers are far more interesting than the young folks’ romantic difficulties and drive the narrative smartly toward the inevitable arrival of yellow fever, which clarifies both sides of the plot to almost everyone’s satisfaction.

Only adequate as fiction, Wood’s first brings to life a bygone age with such vigor—and points out the relevance of its conflicts with such intelligence—that readers with an interest in Old New York will readily forgive its failings.

Pub Date: April 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-59051-162-X

Page Count: 390

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more